Thursday, January 05, 2012

Christians and Israel today (6)

... continued from Tuesday.
... How should we as Christians today appropriate this teaching?  For one thing, the temple and Jerusalem were in fact destroyed within a generation.  Contrary to Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsey, and a host of prophecy teachers, the gospels were not talking about some temple that is yet to be rebuilt. [1] Although parts of these "end times" sermons have not yet happened, the bulk of them have.

This is a very important point.  As far as political Israel is concerned, this teaching is almost completely a matter of the past.  Generally speaking, we should not use the material in the gospels in our thinking about the politics of the Middle East. People calling themselves Christians have of course in the past had both inappropriately negative and positive views on Jews and Israel.  For much of Christian history, people calling themselves Christians used material in the gospels as an excuse to hate and even persecute Jews.  It seems beyond question that these sorts of forces within Christianity are important background to the Holocaust.

But Jesus could not be anti-semitic because he was a Jew himself--for that matter his humanity remains a Jew for all eternity. [2]  We have seen in previous chapters that Jesus’ earthly ministry had as one of its top priorities the restoration of the lost sheep of Israel, not the abandonment of Israel.  He surely directed his action in the temple toward the leadership of Israel, especially its priestly establishment, not Israel itself as a nation.  His critique was a prophetic critique from the inside, not a final condemnation from the outside. [3]

It is not controversial to think that the four gospels as we have them all date from the time after Jerusalem was destroyed.  Words that sound quite combative in foresight do not sound the same in hindsight.  It is thus quite possible that some of the words that sound most anti-Jew were originally more explanations of Jerusalem's destruction looking back.  “His blood is on us and on our children” (Matt. 27:25) reads best as a foreshadowing of what happened forty years later when Jerusalem was destroyed. It certainly did not give a green light for all history to kill any Jews you find because of some racial guilt.

By the same token, other Christians today show an inordinate amount of favoritism for the political nation of Israel.  I think it is appropriate for us to honor Jews today because "Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah (Rom. 9:4-5). However, we cannot confuse political Israel today with the Israel about which Paul said, "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26). Israel's state of belief today is no different than it was at the time of Paul.

My point is that while it is appropriate for Christians to give a certain kind of honor to Jews, both Jews as individuals and as a nation are to be treated with the same expectations and obligations of any other person or nation.  We and they must love their neighbor as themselves, including the Muslim Arab world.  Israel as a nation must be expected to live in the world with justice the same as the Palestinians and all other peoples.  Injustice does not get a pass because of your race.  It is ironic to realize that, at least until recent times, there were far more Christians among Palestinians than among the Israelis, yet so many American fundamentalist churches effectively hate the one and blindly support the other.

For historic Christians, of course the greatest point of application in the "end times" passages in the gospels is the continued expectation that Christ will again return to earth.  It is a faith that we not only have to wait until the next world to see justice done but that, in God's good time, Christ will return and hit the reset button on humanity as well.  Since prophecy usually only becomes clear in hindsight, we will have to wait to see what all that entails in relation to Israel at that point.

[1] Tim LaHaye, Left Behind series; Hal Lindsey, Late Great Planet Earth.

[2] See Terence Donaldson, Jews and Anti-Judaism in the New Testament: Decision Points and Divergent Interpretations (Waco, TX: Baylor University, 2010) for a survey of interpretive issues.

[3] Cf. Luke 13:31-35.


Dick Norton said...


One doesn't have to be a follower of Tim LaHaye to wonder what God might be up to in the re-establishment of the State of Israel. Could this be the first stage of the revival of "all Israel" prophesied by Zechariah and Paul. Where in Scripture does one find that God is finished with His promises about Israel being re-established in "the land" in the future? And these promises are many and specific in the O.T. It kind of strains the imagination to think that all these promises are now to be applied to the Church. I don't think anybody believes the Church of the future will be headquartered in Jerusalem!!

Ken Schenck said...

I'm very willing to think that the re-establishment of Israel is by God's design... but it remains to be seen. Nothing would contradict the Bible if Israel were destroyed again and then rose up again in another 1000 years. Obviously I hope that's not what happens. I'm just highlighting how dodgy it is to argue for political policy based on things that do not yet clearly exist.

Norman Wilson said...

Hi Ken,

I've enjoyed reading your posts and look forward to seeing you again soon at IWU.

My visit to Syria this past September opened my eyes afresh to the plight of the Palestinians, including many of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the region. On one hand, I could empathize with their opposition to the bellicosity of the State of Israel.

On the other hand, I realized more than ever before that Israel has very few friends in the region and sensed that they are fighting for their right to exist as a nation.

The complexities of the situation took on a personal dimension as I interacted with my new Syrian friends.


Ken Schenck said...

I'll hopefully be able to meet you at McConn's in a little more than a week! It would be so helpful if we could all meet some real people like you mention to get a full perspective of the complexities...

Martin LaBar said...

"Nothing would contradict the Bible if Israel were destroyed again and then rose up again in another 1000 years." Thanks for saying that, and for the post.

Ken Schenck said...

Christian stabbed to death yesterday in Israel while celebrating Orthodox Christmas. This piece reminds us that only 5% of the people in Israel are Christians.